From Monologue to Dialogue(?): The Poetics and Politics of Inter/Musical Collaboration
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The last two decades saw the emergence of several projects within the fields of art and popular music that intend to resist globalization by either promoting musical traditions or by encouraging a reflective intercultural exchange. In this thesis, two of such projects are discussed in terms of their poetics and (commercial) politics: The Silk Road Project of the Chinese-American cellist Yo-Yo Ma and the Atlas Ensemble of the Dutch composer Joël Bons. Based on an analysis of ambitions, methods, problems, results, marketing and reception, I argue that, notwithstanding the differences, these projects prove to be more continuous with the various ways by which cultural distinctions used to be negotiated than Ma and Bons admit—approaches that have been identified as nationalism, exoticism, (neo-)orientalism or westernization. Building on the work of (among others) Pierre Bourdieu, Mikhail Bahktin, Louise Meintjes and Steven Feld, I discuss the expectations, motivations and experiences of the participants in these ensembles, which prove to be not necessarily attuned to those of their commissioners. A historicization of the prejudices that circulate in the contemporary music practice in general, and within intercultural ensembles in particular, leads to the assumption that they have sprung from one and the same ideology, namely, (German) Romanticism. Adopting a position between the extremes of engaged idealization and neocolonialist rejection, I intend to contribute to insights in the history, meaning, poetics, limits and possibilities of promoting “intercultural dialogue,” an initiative that seems to be ever more problematic—and therewith also more challenging—against the background of present-day global politics and its concomitant relentless drive towards commercialization and commodification.